Ilkka Huhta

Struggle for Freedom of Religion in Finland

The relationship between church and state was at the core of the Finnish public debate on freedom of religion from the very start.

The Lutheran Church Law of 1869 recognized the principle of religious freedom. However, that law did not extend universal religious freedom in practice. According to the Dissenters Act (1889), Protestant denominations could organize themselves into independent religious communities. However, the law was a disappointment to those who had most fervently hoped for genuine freedom of religion. The introduction of a republican form of government in Finland in 1919 meant giving up the principle of a confessional Lutheran state. However, religious freedom in the Constitution Act did not end the special legal status of the Lutheran state church; in fact, the constitution confirmed this.

In Finland, the history of legislation on religious freedom and its interpretation has taken two directions. On one hand, a basic agreement on church–state relations emerged in the centuries after the Reformation. On the other, more than a hundred years of history as an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia (1809–1917) defined the country’s approaches to religious policy.

This presentation aims to shed light on the latter period, specifically from the emergence of modern politics in the 1860s to the Religious Freedom Act of 1922.